In the past 12 months, Montell Owens got married and was rewarded for his special-teams play for the Jacksonville Jaguars by being named to the Pro Bowl. He played, scored two touchdowns and assisted on a third before he and his bride remained in the islands for their delayed honeymoon.

He returned home and last week, amid the verbal posturing of NFL teams and the players’ union and subsequent lockout, Owens became a rare voice of reason. After Roger Goodell sent a message to the players, Owens commended the commissioner publicly for his efforts in bringing both sides back to the negotiating table.

Which earned the previously little-known University of Maine running back some respect from fans who are powerless in the dispute. On message boards, Owens is touted as the man who should be leading the union.

This has to be the best 12 months of Owens’ 26-year-old life, right? A soft chuckle comes back over the phone. “It’s true, a lot happened to me in one year, but every year of my life has been a good year.”

Introduce yourself again to the man we all overlooked during his four years at Maine. He was a backup to Marcus Williams from 2002 through the 2004 seasons. He arrived in Orono as one more of Jack Cosgrove’s unheralded recruits, all members of the head coach’s self-described Island of Misfit Toys. In a familiar Maine story, no other school offered Owens a football scholarship. He was honor society material, a terrific trumpet player in the school’s jazz band, but he had never been named to an all-state football team.

And Delaware isn’t exactly Florida or Texas or California, where there might be a dozen or more running backs worthy of the recognition.

Owens went undrafted in 2006. Jacksonville did a little poking around, learned more about his character and athleticism and game sense, and signed him as a free agent. He was one of the seven running backs at his first camp. He was last on the depth chart.

On the field, he did all he could to be noticed. In his room at night, he prayed.

At Maine, his running back coach was Jeff Cole, who worked Owens hard, challenging him. Cole disappeared from campus for a while and when he returned, he had lost his hair, his face was thinner and drawn. Until then, Owens didn’t know Cole was fighting cancer and that the last round of treatment wasn’t working.

The impact on Owens was profound. Cole was a man waking up each morning knowing he was going to die, but still coming to practice trying to make players like Owens better running backs, better men.

“When people learn I went to the University of Maine, they say: ‘What? Maine?’ I tell them there’s a special bond with the men who played there. You’ve got the cold and the snow. The only thing we had at that place was each other. You don’t have a lot of distractions. It’s like Coach says, ‘Maine is a place youve got to come to. You don’t just pass through.’ “

He knows his way back to Maine and breezed through the state several weeks ago. He looks around the league, knowing Mike DeVito and Matt Mulligan are Maine men with the New York Jets. Jovan Belcher with Kansas City, Brandon McGowan with the Patriots, Stephen Cooper with San Diego. “I don’t do pregame on the field,” said Owens. “My teammates will come back to the locker room and say Stephen Cooper was asking about you. After the game is my time with Coop and DeVito and the others.”

To Owens, being named to the Pro Bowl was “an honor and a privilege. It was the most fun I’ve had. You’re so focused on each game during the season, this was a lot like backyard football. You’re in Hawaii, you’re meeting guys you play against but didn’t really know them. Now you’re saying, ‘That’s this guy? That’s a cool guy.’ “

Owens recovered a Devon Hester muffed handoff on a kickoff return and scored for his first touchdown. He caught a Matt Cassel pass for his second. He was part of a well-executed multilateral play that enabled Cleveland center Alex Mack to score in the 55-41 loss to the NFC.

Life is most certainly good for Owens. Two years ago he helped form the St. John’s River City Band Jazz All-Stars from 12 Jacksonville-area high schools. With Owens as a soloist, they performed at the Jacksonville Jazz Festival. “They asked me to inspire them and they inspired me. I came out of the first practice so charged up, I went and got my trumpet.”

In 2008, Owens was named to USA Today’s All-Joe Team for players not yet named to the Pro Bowl. In 2010 he attended classes at Harvard Business School as part of the NFL Business Management and Entrepreneurial Program. He returns to his hometown of Wilmington, Del., to work with youth there.

The NFL lockout and stalled labor negotiations are worrisome. But then, so is that moment on kickoff coverage that could end his career. Owens will handle that moment and the future with the same grace he’s handled everything else.

Faith, he says, is being certain of the uncertain and the unseen.

Staff Writer Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at:

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